WilWas and WooWas

Warblers have started their migrations from their breeding grounds, down through the country and on, all the way to Africa. The Bird Ringers came early one morning to target WilWas and WooWas – this is ringer-speak for Willow Warblers and Wood Warblers. Because these birds are no longer breeding, they are now allowed to play their song to bring in any of these species that are in the area.

Although they did not catch a WooWa, they did get some WilWas:

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Willow Warbler

They also caught four other types of Warbler:

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Sedge Warbler. From the finger, you can tell it’s been eating blackberries
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Reed Warbler
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Reed Warblers have such arrow-shaped heads
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Garden Warbler. Small white eye ring is its most distinctive feature
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Whitethroat

All these birds have been born this year and are now making their way south for the first time. The adult birds are also migrating now but probably go straight through, without stopping at the coast.

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They also ringed this young Yellowhammer who will have been born here this year. A very different beak shape to the warblers.

One of our sons, visiting this week, spotted a Wasp Spider in amongst these flowers below. The Spider was doing brisk business catching unfortunate insects.

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A magnificent female Wasp Spider
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With wrapped prey
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You can just make out a Bee in the parcel. This size comparison gives an idea of how large she is.

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From below and you can see silk coming out from that circular spinneret

We also found a second Wasp Spider, a couple of feet further back, and I started going down to visit both webs several times a day because I really wanted to also see a male, who is tiny in comparison. However, I have now read that I was too late – these spiders mate in July and unfortunately the male often doesn’t live to tell the tale, being eaten by her. During August, the female gets larger and larger as the eggs grow inside her and, a month after mating, she finally builds a cocoon for her eggs. Every time I go down to look  at them, they are both busy with new prey items – enthralling and horrifying in equal parts.

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Their webs have a distinctive zig zag ribbon down them – possibly to strengthen them or to make them more visible to larger animals so that they don’t walk through it

We used the welcome injection of enthusiasm in the form of our visiting son to progress a couple of projects. In the wood, several hours were spent working hard on the round house, which we are making out of the by-products from our coppicing efforts over the winter:

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The circle is now complete. Next step is to bang in some larger posts to get the walls a bit higher.

In the meadows, we scythed the green hay off the flowery rectangle that was sown five years ago and laid it onto a neighbouring less-flowery area. We hope that flower seeds will now drop and germinate in this new area.

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Scything the spent flower stalks
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Cutting the grass on an adjoining area really short and scratching up the soil
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The cut flower stalks now spread on the new area

In the wood, we have now got much better photos of the Polecat/Ferret Hybrid:

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There are also other interesting photos from the wood this week:

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Red Deer. This is a second Red Deer  – the other one we have seen had small antlers
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The long-legged giant on a different night
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Tawny Owl
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This Sparrowhawk arrival must have given the young Jay a horrible shock
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Sparrowhawk on another occasion
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Buzzard
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I love the way they walk

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The same Buzzard in a different part of the wood
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Peaceful woodland scene with a male Badger relaxing

In the meadows, a pair of Grey Partridge have begun visiting the strip:

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This Kestrel below is ringed and so I suspect that she is the one that was ringed here in the meadows last year as a young bird.

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Here she is again:

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Young Crow with parent
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Young Yellowhammer with parent
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Yellowhammer bathing
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Green Woodpecker preparing to bathe..
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..and afterwards
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What a sight – a moulting Magpie
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This is intriguing. 1.30am at the dead of night and something goes over the gate. But surely that is fur rather than feathers? I have no idea what this is.
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Two of the triplets
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One of this year’s cubs
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Two roosting Common Blues

We have been following the fortunes of this Stock Dove squab who hatched out of an egg on 30th July. Its a funny looking little thing, and its ears aren’t where you might expect.

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When the Bird Ringers were here this week, they ringed this squab:

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Getting the squab out of the box, having first checked the camera to see that it was on its own
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Fitting the ring
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All ready to go back. Its feathers are in quills still, giving it a very odd appearance
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After the squab had been ringed, a parent is back at the nest, feeding it crop milk

It’s been a hot and busy week. Last night, one of our old favourites, the Patricia, was at anchor alongside. This ship is operated by Trinity House and she tends to the needs of the lightships and buoys marking the treacherous Goodwin Sands that lie just offshore.

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The sea was so unusually still and calm that the reflections, the throb of her engines across the water and the warm, summer evening created a magical atmosphere, one to remember with nostalgia when we are once again in the grip of winter

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The Moon rising with the Patricia on a serene summer night

 

Fledgling Joy

On Friday this week, when the temperature rose above 30 degrees, the Flying Ants took off and we were treated to a fantastic wildlife spectacle in the column of air above the meadows:

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Hundreds of Black-headed Gulls quietly circling round and round feasting on the Ants. We try hard to get the Insects right here in the meadows trusting that everything else will follow and at times of like this we are filled with hope that we are doing things right.

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Now seems a good time to celebrate all this year’s fledglings that are arriving, proof that the natural cycle of renewal is carrying on, unhindered by what is going on in the human world.

Although we have no idea where the nest is, we take great delight in seeing juvenile Green Woodpeckers in the meadows each year – another animal that is drawn here by the Ants:

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Looking rather pleased with itself, I thought.

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) have announced that over a million rings were put on birds by its accredited ringers in 2019. That is an enormous volunteer effort, especially given how highly trained they all have to be. The Bird Ringer, one of these very volunteers, caught and ringed this young Yellowhammer this week. It will have fledged from a nest somewhere in the meadows this year:

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He also caught five recently-fledged Dunnock chicks and this sweet, juvenile House Sparrow. You can still just see the remains of its yellow gape at the back of the beak:

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Here is young Crow being fed by its parent:

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And Robins have also recently fledged nearby:

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These two Willow Warblers below were born this year but they are already on the move. They stopped off in the meadows this week on their way to Africa for the winter:

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The Bird Ringer tells us that Willow Warbler and Wood Warbler migration has just started and will now continue throughout August. The Chiffchaff migration won’t start until the beginning of September since they don’t travel as far into Africa as the Willow Warblers.

We have also been seeing fledglings in the wood and here are two young fluffy Jays:

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In the meadows, the Stock Doves’ egg has hatched. There is now a long and dangerous road to travel before this little one fledges in 27-28 days time. In that open Kestrel box, the nest will be very obvious and exposed to Magpies and Crows and I already feel nervous for it.

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The adult is pecking the baby’s beak to stimulate feeding
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Feeding the baby crop milk

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Once breeding is over for another year, the adults go into a moult and this Magpie is doing just that and not looking great on it:

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All seven Badgers are still to be seen in the meadows:

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One of the triplets annoying its mother while she tries to drink

One morning we found that a bird feeding cage had been flattened:

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We suspected some teenage hooligans and discovered that we were indeed right when the trail cameras caught two of the triplets red handed:

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One of the perpetrators was even seen sloping away from the scene of the crime at first light:

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I know the Badgers in the wood much less well. This one just looks like it has got a button as a nose:

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Gorgeous colours on this wood Fox
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Haven’t seen a Tawny Owl for ages

On a sunny day, the meadows are absolutely billowing with Butterflies:

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Mating Common Blues
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A Wall Butterfly liking the heat of a sampling square
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Mating Gatekeepers

We have now rescued five Hummingbird Hawk-Moths from inappropriate places so far this year. We have only ever seen one here before, so they are clearly having a good year:

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Hummingbird Hawk-Moth in the process of being rescued

I have been getting some lovely Moths in the trap this week:

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Jersey Tiger
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Magpie Moth

We found this Broad-barred White on a door. Since they have never seen themselves, I am intrigued how they know where to roost so that they are disguised:

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I suppose the ones that get it right are the ones that survive to pass that information on to the next generation – Darwinism in action – but it’s all fascinating stuff.

This photo of a Magpie is also amazing. Its lower beak is so much longer than its upper beak, which is what enables it to open its mouth so wide.

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As the temperature hit 30 degrees this week and the Ants took to the air, we took ourselves down to the beach and swam. It has to be really hot and still to get me into the water and conditions were perfect:

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My only regret was that we forgot to take some wine and glasses.

Polecats and Ferrets

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We saw this animal in the wood last week. It is difficult to get much detail from our photo but our woodland neighbours have seen much more of a pair of them and have identified them as Polecat-Ferret hybrids.

Polecats were persecuted to near extinction in the UK at the end of the 19th and early 20th century, although they retained a stronghold in Wales. Since then, they have started recolonising – both outwards from Wales and also by reintroduction in some places, such as in Cumbria.

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Ferrets are a domesticated form of Polecat, historically used to flush Rabbits. Over the years, a feral population of Ferrets has also become established in Britain, although they don’t survive as well in the wild as Polecats do. However, Polecats and Ferrets can breed together producing fertile Polecat-Ferret hybrids and this is what we think we have in the wood. Actually, in East Kent there has never been a validated Polecat sighting but there have been a few of these Polecat-Ferret Hybrids.

Polecats and these Hybrids eat Rabbits as the main constituent of their diet. I wonder what impact the extension of their range is having on Stoats, who seem to live in the same kind of places and also eat Rabbits?

The Red Deer is still making occasional visits to our wood. It is so enormous but it took me a while to spot it in this photo:

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A Buzzard came in for a drink:

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I was very pleased with this next photo – a speckled juvenile Green Woodpecker and a red-capped juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker in the same shot:

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In an open area, full of luxuriant Marjoram growth, there were a lot of these funnel webs. I could see the Spider at the bottom of the funnel but I’m afraid that I failed to achieve an adequate photo for you:

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Back in the meadows, I have now reported back to the Fox Project that the seven-day treatment of Psorinum that I gave the Foxes in mid June does appear to have worked. Below is the one-eyed vixen and the bare patches on her tail, back legs, shoulders and neck all now seen to be growing fur back. She still looks a bit of a mess but I am so pleased that I was able to help her.

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It felt like a fantastic reward when she came up onto the strip at dusk with her mate and their two cubs:

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The one-eyed vixen at the front and her mate sitting right at the back

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Unlike her, her mate looks in fantastic fettle

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As well as this lovely look at her family,  she has also found her own special way to thank me:

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However, I am now watching what’s going on with this whip-thin Fox below – that tail looks a bit suspect to me:

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This next photo reminds me of a Brownie pow wow:

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Only six Badgers there but no need to worry because all seven are still being seen:

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The littlest Badger, distinctive with its very narrow head, still spends a lot of time going around with its mother:

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The Fox below is trying to get at the food in the cages:

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So, too, is this Rat. Indisputably a male, I have also seen a female and so there are at least two:

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Another at one of the shallow ponds:

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A lot of Ant nests have formed under the protection of the Reptile sampling squares and these nests have been producing Flying Ants recently. This is a way of dispersal – there are both male and female Flying Ants and all the Ant nests in an area synchronise so that the flights happen at the same time. In this way, a flying female might well meet and mate with a flying male from another nest, thus avoiding inbreeding. She will then finish her flight and start a new colony.

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Last year on 25th August we had flocks of circling Black-Headed Gulls over the meadows eating these Ants on the wing. We are watching for this again this year but haven’t seen it yet:

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Black-Headed Gulls eating Flying Ants last year

Because the nests all produce Flying Ants at the same time, it can lead to situations such as last weekend when the Met Office radar mistook an 80km wide Ant swarm in southern Kent as a rain cloud. What a food resource for Gulls that must have been.

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Also in the meadows this week:

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Kestrel coming in for a bath

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This is a very odd effect with the wings on this male Sparrowhawk. I have not seen one holding its wings like that before.
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This is probably the same bird

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A male Blackbird taking back Worms for young. The Worms have wrapped round and round its beak
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There must be a nest with young to be fed close by. There were so many photos of Blackbirds carrying food on this gate. Here is the female.
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A fledged young Blackbird still going round with its Dad.

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If you thought the young Blackbird on the right was so speckled that it might be mistaken for a Song Thrush, here it is an opportunity to see both at once.
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Fledged Wren
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Really interesting view of the ‘fingers’ at the end of a Crow wing
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This is a really unfortunate way to see our first ever Hawkmoth caterpillar
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A Crow carrying a flint stone – is it using it to smash something open?
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Could it be anything to do with their taste for snails?
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Herring Gull not happy with Crows coming in
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Beautifully marked Viviperous Lizard
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Mating Gatekeeper Butterflies
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Mating Six-Spot Burnet Moths
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A Festoon. I had never had one of these in the Moth Trap before
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A Rosy Footman Moth
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Swollen-thighed Flower Beetle

I found this beautiful Rosemary Beetle on some Lavender:

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Chrysolina americana

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This Beetle is native to Southern Europe but was found living in London in the 1990s and has since spread outwards, even though it can’t fly. It lives and breeds on aromatic plants such as Rosemary, Lavender and Thyme but rarely does much damage.

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The Creeping Thistle is now going to seed. We couldn’t delay any longer – we got the tractor out to cut down the area where it grows densely:

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Here are the meadows now, in late July:

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We had a wander amongst the long grasses:

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7-spot Ladybird eating Aphids
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There were so many 7-Spots on this one plant
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But one of the Ladybirds had fallen victim to a Spider
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Still on this same plant was this caterpillar of the Dark Arches Moth

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A Marbled White Butterfly being eaten by an Enoplognatha sp Spider
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Common Blue roosting on a Plantain
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Gatekeeper on Ladies Bedstraw
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At least five Small Blues down by the wild pond. This is a male with a few blue scales on the wing

Finally for today, the Stock Doves are still incubating in the Kestrel nest box in the Pine Tree and occasionally we get little glimpses of an egg:

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We are very excited for the egg to hatch.

 

 

 

 

 

The Digiscopers

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Various family members going for a swim

The year now seems to be galloping past and it has got to the point when the sea becomes so inviting that even I may consider going in for a swim. I haven’t got there yet personally, but everyone else has.

Down at the white cliffs, the chicks in the second Kestrel nest are growing up fast. We thought that there were two of them:

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One eye open, one eye closed. Good results with the digiscope that we took down with us.

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But then we saw that actually there were three:

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The chick at the back looks so much older

When we passed the nest again on our way back, that oldest chick was out of the nest:

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Really short tail feathers still

It hopped back in while we were watching.

The House Martin nest, that I thought had been abandoned, has been repaired and is still going strong, with young being fed. So that is good news:

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There are now a lot of House Martin nests – my guess would be around 30 – and it is lovely to see the birds all flying around and about. Here is another of the nests:

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The digiscope – a normal birding scope with a connector so that a mobile phone can take photos through it – took a photo of the same nest, showing the pile of muck that has collected below as well:

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This stretch of cliff also has Fulmars nesting in the little caves and crevices that are cut into the chalk. In the photo below, the nest is tucked in the back and one of the adults can just be seen sitting on it:

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Fulmars are in the same family as Albatrosses and have a similar tube on their beaks to excrete excess salt.

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The digiscope also did a good job with the Fulmars, capturing an adult and its chick making a right old racket:

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Herring Gulls seem to be able to manage without the shelter of a cave. Here is one of their nests built on an exposed ledge and with a spotty-headed chick:

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This cruise ship, the Carnival Magic, came to Dover this week, apparently to pick up staff. Are cruises starting up again then? Surely not.

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I know I was meant to be taking photos of the wildlife but the image of this man below, admiring the cliffs as they stretch off towards Dover, was so striking that I couldn’t resist. It looks like he was standing on the top of the world rather than at sea level.

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Once he had got down, he came over and had a look at the digiscoping of the Kestrels with us.

Back in the meadows, we have a Kestrel box up in a Pine tree that has been standing empty and rejected for five years now. But this week we noticed a Stock Dove coming out of it and so climbed up to see what was going on:

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A single Stock Dove egg. We put that wood chip in there, so the bird has done little, if any, nest building.

Stock Doves normally lay two eggs and so another one might be expected shortly. Then incubation is 16-18 days and apparently they can have up to five broods a year, which sounds like hard work.

We have now managed to get a camera in the box:

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It is a different sort of camera to the trail cameras that we usually use – it has cables running off it that we then plug into the computer to see live footage from the box. The camera doesn’t record movements when we are not around but this does mean that we do not need to go near the nest again. We can just connect our computer up at a distance from time to time to see how things are progressing.

It seems that Wood Pigeons are still actively building nests. We have had several carrying sticks on this perch in the week:

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And there was also this emergency landing which made me smile:

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Somewhere about the meadows a family of Robins has successfully fledged:

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Just-fledged Robin

Goldfinches as well. We rescued this young bird from a shed:

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A Crow found a bit of jam sandwich that the Foxes must have missed and took it to water to soften it before eating:

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We continually move the cages around so that there is no food build up, but when the cages are close to the hedgerow, they have been getting occasional daytime visits from this Rat:

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I have an instinctual negative reaction to seeing a Rat but I think this is misplaced and try to overcome it – after all, these cages are a long way away from any human habitation. We see Rats rarely here – there are far too many Foxes and Badgers, both of whom love to eat Rats.

Some other photos from the meadows this week:

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A single stem of Ragwort supporting so much life – Cinnabar Moth caterpillars and Common Red Soldier Beetles
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A second flush of the tiny Small Blue Butterflies is now to be seen
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My friend the one-eyed vixen. Well, she is my friend but I’m not sure I’m her friend
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One of her three cubs
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Mother and cub
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Phew – all seven Badgers still with us. The male is at the front. The small cub is on the far left
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The dog is a disgrace
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Sparrowhawks being seen daily on this gate
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Emperor Dragonfly laying eggs in the hide pond
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The wild pond has only been there five years and it is wonderful to find that it has attracted specialist species. This is a Stretch Spider, Tetragnatha striata, and is a water reed specialist. There are reeds in the wild pond but this is the only habitat like this for a large distance – so how on earth did these Spiders get here after we dug the pond?
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On a trip back to Maidenhead this week, I found this Wood Louse Spider under a flower pot. (Dysdera crocata). Although I have never seen one of these in the meadows in Kent, I  have often seen these Spiders under flower pots in Maidenhead. Never before actually with prey, though and so I was excited to include it

Time now to move to the wood. What on earth is this? Possibly a Mink – although it has quite a bushy tail and we are a long way from a water course. I’m not very good with Mustelids.

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I believe this animal was also seen on our woodland neighbours’ camera a while ago and we tried to work out what it was then but I don’t think a firm conclusion was reached.

Young Green Woodpeckers have now fledged somewhere in the wood:

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So very speckled

The Great Spotted young are around as well and so we have had a successful Woodpecker year:

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Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker with its red cap
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Scorpion Fly (Panorpa sp) which feeds on small invertebrates in woodland margins. Look at its wacky elephant trunk and scorpion tail. A most peculiar thing.

We were a bit alarmed by this ship this week. The south to north shipping lane is too far east for us to see from the meadows, but this container ship, the Estelle Maersk, was travelling north quite close to us – we have never seen a container ship so close.  She was way out of the shipping lane and on a direct line to bump into Thanet. Then she seemed to abruptly change course and veer off sharply north-eastwards, away from us. All very peculiar. It is actually a wonder that they can see where they are going over all those containers – perhaps they can’t! Here she is as she passed the Goodwin Sands Lightship after she had veered north-east.

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Below is a strange vessel. This is Hawk, a semi-submersible, heavy load carrier, nearing the end of a fifty day journey from the United Arab Emirates, via the Cape of Good Hope, to Nigg in Scotland. She is carrying footings for the Moray East Offshore Windfarm and I suppose these go onto the seabed and the wind turbines will slot into the rings at the top.

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She is just over the horizon so we can’t see the bottom of the vessel

Below is Hawk again but also in the photo is Le Jacques Cartier, a brand new, super sleek cruise ship. The company that owns her, Ponant, only took delivery of her a couple of days ago. This ship has an underwater multi-sensory lounge with two round observation windows to watch the sea life as you cruise along drinking champagne which sounds really lovely.

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So, that was a lot of shipping to include in a wildlife blog but the variety of the stuff that sails past us here is completely fascinating and, now that we have the fantastic digiscope set up, we can get a proper look at it all.

 

The Insect Siren

I already knew that I was adored by Mosquitoes, Horse Flies and a host of other biting insects, but it turns out that I’m pretty popular with Pollen Beetles as well:

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This sort of attention I could do without, but it serves me right for going out in a T shirt that makes me look like a giant Hawkweed. At least we have proved that it is the colour yellow that draws the Beetles in to the flowers, rather than smell or shape – so a scientific experiment, then, rather than a wardrobe miscalculation. The other one of us, wearing a shirt of muted greens and blues, had not a single Beetle on him.

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Quite a high tide – it has been a full moon

Down at the white cliffs, two of the young Kestrels have now fledged and are inexpertly flying around in the vicinity of the nest:

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Talking to a fellow nature enthusiast that we met, there are another two still in the nest:

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There were also a pair of Ravens to be seen. Back in 2010, Ravens nested and successfully raised two young in the white cliffs around Dover for the first time in more than a century. There are now, I believe, several Raven nesting sites in the area, including one quite close to here:

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But there has been drama down at the white cliffs. The House Martin nest that I had been particularly watching now seems to have been attacked and is standing empty.

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But what bird is capable of robbing a nest on a sheer cliff like that? A quick search on the internet tells me that both Sparrowhawks and Great Spotted Woodpeckers would be able to do that- and of those two, Sparrowhawks have to be the prime suspects.

Having shut the gate between the meadows, we are now starting to see our Sparrowhawks again, rather than just the sorry piles of feathers that they leave as their calling cards:

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Female
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Male

The male is distinctive with white feathers on the back of his head:

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And so here he is again on the strip:

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We have had some more much-needed rain in the week. The Wood Pigeons and Stock Doves always seem pretty waterproof, the water simply forming spheres on their feathers that then roll off. But what on earth had happened to this one? In all the years of looking at these birds on trail cameras, I haven’t seen one looking wet like this before.

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It is always entertaining to see what state the Badgers manage to get themselves in when it rains:

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Although too early still to start this year’s cut of the meadows, we got the tractor out and cut the paths round the circumference.

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IMAG0837The cut field margins stop the hedgerows encroaching too enthusiastically into the meadows as well as making it much easier for us to walk around.

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An enticing path through the meadow flowers

We operate a zero-tolerance policy for Ragwort and just about now, as the Ragwort clearly advertises itself by coming into flower, we go round with the Ragwort fork and dig it all up. Ragwort is an injurious weed and its toxins build up in the liver of grazing animals, especially dangerous if it is in hay and they can’t recognise and avoid it. Our cut grasses don’t go to animals but we are under a legal obligation to ensure that Ragwort seed from our land doesn’t spread to other people’s.

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We have been doing this now for five years and there is only a small amount growing now compared to before. However, Ragwort has many wildlife benefits – one of the most obvious being as the larval food plant for the beautiful Cinnabar Moth. We have been finding some of these caterpillars here this week:

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I hadn’t noticed those hairs before

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We have decided to delay the Ragwort-removal job for a couple of weeks to give the Cinnabars time to pupate – there is time before these plants start to go to seed. When the caterpillars are fully grown, they will leave the plant and pupate just below the surface of the soil until next spring.

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For now, our bright yellow Rag-Fork will remain hanging in the shed

Now that we are in July, an extra layer of richness is brought to the soundscape of the meadows with the song of Grasshoppers and Crickets. Shut your eyes and you are on a Mediterranean holiday. They are very much part of the ecosystem here but we have never put the necessary effort in to get to know them. There are 34 species of Orthoptera (Bush-crickets, Crickets and Grasshoppers) in the UK but we have no idea how many of those live here. With East Africa currently suffering the worst locust devastation for many generations, it seemed a very appropriate time to find out a little more about these animals.

We saw this Roesels’s Bush-cricket on a window, very distinctive with the yellow spots on the side of her thorax and the margin of the pronotum, just behind the head. She is a female with her sword-like ovipositor.

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I remembered that last year I had rescued a Roesel’s Bush-cricket from a spider web in a shed and I searched back for the photo:

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This is also a female with that ovipositor – but the big difference is that this one’s wings are really short.

There is a form, f. diluta, of this species that has the long wings and f. diluta usually makes up less than 1% of the population. This percentage can rise, however, in long hot summers or if the population density is getting high – that is, in conditions where it might be necessary to disperse.

Here is a very different Bush-cricket that we also saw this week, the Speckled Bush-cricket:

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A female again, with that ovipositor

We were finding this all so interesting that we decided to do some sweeps of the grass with a net and see what we caught.

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What fun! (but we don’t get out much)

As well as the Roesel’s, we found Meadow Grasshoppers and Field Grasshoppers, although both of these come in many colour forms and identification proved to be a somewhat tricky business.

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Meadow Grasshopper male. Chorthippus parallelus
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Field Grasshopper. Chorthippus brunneus
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Another female Roesel’s Bush-cricket, also with those long wings. Notice the white spines at the rear of her abdomen. We guess that they are used as anchors as she sticks the ovipositor into the ground.

The net also contained all sorts of other things – caterpillars, spiders, moths. We had never seen anything like these sweet little things before:

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These are different instars of the nymphs of the Tortoise Bug (Eurygaster testudinaria). We didn’t find an adult but it is perhaps slightly too early.

Here are a few other photos from this week in the meadows:

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Marbled White on Teasel
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Goldfinch eating the flowers seeds
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Scarface out and about in the light

One wet morning this week, the De Gallant was at anchor alongside the meadows.

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She was launched in 1916 and served as a Herring lugger in the North Sea until 1936. In recent times she has become a wind-powered cargo ship that also carries fare-paying passengers, who go along for the ride and also help crew the vessel. Last October, she sailed into Deal bringing produce all the way from the Caribbean that the people of the town had pre-ordered, powered only by the strength of the wind. We happened to see her arrival from the meadows as we were standing talking to the bird ringer:

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This week, the De Gallant stayed at anchor all morning. We used digiscoping to get these more detailed images of her:

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We thought she was getting ready to sail when we saw this bare-footed young man go along the bow sprit to grapple with the sails, but, in the end, she slid further along towards Deal with the tide and we lost sight of her.

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I mentioned earlier that the tides have been high this week because of the full moon. Late one warm evening, we watched it rise above France.

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It was completely magical.

 

 

 

And Now It’s July

After a particularly windy day, we found a tiny little nest on the ground, blown out of a hedgerow:

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So delicate and soft, it had been woven out of Badger fur. But what sort of British bird would have a nest so small?

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Well, it is lucky that we have the bird ringer to pose these questions to – apparently this is just the soft nest lining of a bigger nest, possibly Chaffinch. I love that the birds have been out collecting Badger fur so that their babies can be comfortable.

The bird ringer was back ringing in the meadows in a lull in the weather this week.

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Juvenile Dunnock

He mentioned that the young Kestrels are now old enough to be standing at the entrance to their nest in the white cliffs. We high-tailed it down there that very afternoon:

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Young Kestrel soon to fledge

Two chicks were visible in the nest and this adult female was immediately below the hole:

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There was a lot of Kestrel activity there that day

As we walked further along, we think we found a second Kestrel nest. Certainly a Kestrel briefly landed at it which is what drew our attention:

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If you peer into the photo, it is just possible to see a fluffy white chick within this black hole – we could see it much more clearly through our binoculars. This nest hole is lower than the original one and I am hoping it will be possible to get better photos of this nest as the baby gets older.

Chicks have now started hatching in the cliff-nesting House Martin colony:

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How lovely.

We also saw this Seal:

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Seal with a fish
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Using its flippers

I am not very familiar with Seals and I reminded myself yet again about what the differences between Grey and Common (or Harbour) Seals are. This next photo from the internet shows the larger Grey Seal in the middle with the Roman nose. The Common Seals on either side have a different face shape – almost a snub nose.

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So that would definitely make our Seal a Grey Seal.

A few miles north from here, the River Stour enters the sea and last summer we took a boat trip along the Stour as far as its mouth where Seals are known to haul out.

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The mouth of the Stour with the Isle of Thanet in the background. How did that tower block ever get planning permission?

Now that I have revised again the difference between Grey and Common Seals, I see that these were definitely Common Seals:

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The rather alarming ginger colour shows that they have recently been spending time at  a particular place on the Thames in Essex where there is mud that stains them that colour.

However, it is Grey Seals who haul out onto the Goodwin Sands when they are exposed at low tide. These notorious sands lie directly offshore from the meadows and have been responsible for thousands of shipwrecks over the centuries, although these days they are surrounded by lightships and warning buoys. Two ships, responsible for looking after these structures, often come and drop anchor alongside us. The Patricia and the Galatea look quite similar and we get confused between them, but it was definitely the Galatea that was here overnight this week:

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The Galatea is operated by Trinity House, the body responsible for lighthouses and marine navigation aids around the coasts of Btiain

Although not so much in the news these days, the issue of migrants coming across the channel to land at this part of the coast is still very much on-going – all the more perilous for these people in this time of pandemic. Border Force vessels maintain a presence in these waters and are a familiar sight to us:

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Another week further on into the summer and all seven Badgers are still present and correct at dusk when the peanuts go down. Those headlights in the top left hand corner are the eyes of a Fox that is having to wait until the Badgers have finished before it can move in:

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Here are the three Fox cubs and their father seeing if the Badgers have left them any peanuts:

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But the Fox cubs have now discovered that food is also going out onto the pinnacle where the Badgers don’t go:

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We can’t have a whole post without the one-eyed vixen appearing and here she is on the right with one of her cubs.

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One of the cubs
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Another Fox up on the strip. The camera was wonky – the sea is not really at this angle
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I love this photo. This is the young, first-time mother playing with her single cub

A Grey Wagtail visited the hide pond:

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The bird ringer tells us that the Grey Wagtails breeding in local chalk rivers have already finished their second broods and may be going on to a third. So this bird is most likely to have fledged from one of the first two broods and is now dispersing.

We liked this photo of a Blackbird flying off from the strip with a sunflower seed in his beak:

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We had been keeping this gate between the two meadows propped open during the pandemic so that the bird ringer didn’t have to touch any infrastructure when he came to do his ringing. However, we missed seeing the variety of birds that perch on it and so we have now closed it again unless the bird ringer is expected. In particular, it is a favourite spot for the Sparrowhawks to rest a while and watch for their unfortunate prey:

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In the past week, the grasses seem to have gone much browner as we approach high summer:

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The Wild Carrot is at its best
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Two Swollen-thighed Beetles on Scabious, their thighs shining like jewels.
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A Grasshopper with raspberry-coloured armour. This is the purple form of Field Grasshopper
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A Gatekeeper Butterfly was first seen on 3rd July with its distinctive double white spots
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Some Butterfly species such as this Peacock had disappeared but have now started to be seen again as the second broods hatch

In the wood, we saw about twenty Peacock caterpillars prominently placed on a patch of Nettle at the woodland margin. Nettle is the larval food plant of this Butterfly.

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A very striking-looking Caterpillar

These Caterpillars will have been all living altogether in a communal web when they were smaller but, now they are close to pupating, they have become solitary, sitting fully exposed on leaves. They will pupate and then hatch out as second brood adults during the rest of the summer. At the beginning of September they will find somewhere safe and protected to hibernate over winter as adults so that they can be one of the first Butterflies on the wing next year.

The farm that runs alongside the wood changed hands last year and the new owner has taken it out of agriculture and is managing it for nature. This spring, he planted thousands of young trees in the field next to our wood. This is such a dry part of the country, we were wondering how he was going to keep them watered this summer whilst they establish themselves. Well, we now have our answer because he has built a temporary water tower in one corner of the field:

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There continues to be a tremendous number of Great Tits visiting the deeper pond at the wood. I count fourteen of them in this photo below. We are taking credit for this, whether justified or not, because we think that these are families recently fledged from the nest boxes.

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The Green Woodpecker nest in the Cherry Tree that we were watching must surely have failed because all activity there abruptly stopped. We are also not seeing any juvenile Green Woodpeckers on the cameras. Here is an adult bird:

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A lovely shot of a Jay:

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And we finish today with a Badger, looking absolutely right and at peace in its woodland habitat.

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Foxes and Badgers

The cliff-dwelling Foxes and Badgers have to rub shoulders with each other here. They all share the same hole under the fence to get from the cliffs into the meadows and they all gather at the same place at dusk when the peanuts go down.

An unwritten agreement has been reached to make it work and it is the Foxes who are careful to give way to the Badgers at any hint of confrontation and actually it seems to be choreographed perfectly – we rarely observe any interaction between them. Although occasionally a Badger will chase a Fox off and this is reminiscent of a charging Rhino. During the winter, the Badgers aren’t especially interested in the peanuts when their metabolism is slowed and it is easy to dig for worms in the soft ground. At this time of year, however, they are very keen:

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The Fox cub on the right has to wait on the margins while the herd of seven Badger take priority in hoovering up the peanuts
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The same thing happening on another evening. The Fox looks dejected and this tugs at my heart strings.

However, I also put peanuts (and currently sandwiches as well) on the pinnacle up in the Ant paddock. The Badgers don’t go in here until later in the night by which time the Foxes have eaten everything and so the Badgers have never discovered that this is happening. Never, that is, until now:

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It will be interesting to see how this now develops.

The Fox cubs are growing up in the meadows:

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Cub with its mother, the One-eyed vixen
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The one-eyed vixen has now finished her second course of mange treatment. There now follows a heart-in-mouth wait to see if it has worked and her fur starts growing back.
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One of the triplets

In the wood, there are both Foxes and Badgers as well but the Foxes seem to be in much lower density and there is no cliff effect to concentrate the animals into bottlenecks.

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There are at least three Badger cubs in the wood and they are small – much the size of the small Badger cub in the meadows that we are worried about. Rather than that cub being small, perhaps it’s just that the triplets are super-sized and we don’t need to be concerned at all.

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A small Badger cub in the wood
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Three cubs playing in the wood

Last year, as the hot summer got into its stride, Buzzards started coming down to the shallow ponds in the wood and this seems to be starting again now. It is such a treat to see them up close:

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Large family groups of Great Tits and Blue Tits are appearing at the wood ponds as the young fledge. There was also this gathering of three just-fledged Song Thrush:

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The second meadow is starting to put its summer clothes on as the yellow Ladies Bedstraw comes out into flower. We always think it looks like an impressionist painting  with these patches of colour.

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This Fly caught my eye. I could tell there was something odd about it but it was only when I looked at the photos afterwards did I realise that its abdomen is being carried tucked under in a way that I have never before seen in a Fly:

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This is Sicus ferrugineus – and it is perhaps no surprise to learn that something with an abdomen like this is a parasitoid – the unfortunate hosts that will be killed by this Fly are Bumblebees.

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A mating pair of Buff-tailed Bumblebees

There are just so many Marbled White and Large, Small and Essex Skipper Butterflies around this year. It’s wonderful to see them all.

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Large Skipper with its checkerboarding

Six Spot and Narrow-bordered Five Spot Burnet Moths are also doing very well.

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A Narrow-bordered Five Spot Burnet Moth just emerged from its pupa below
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A close up of the pupal case
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Six Spot on the left and Narrow-bordered Five Spot on the right.
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The first Common Darter Dragonfly seen on 25th June
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Mating Common Red Soldier Beetles. I’m afraid that another name is the Hogweed Bonking Beetle. Rhagonycha fulva.

I have been putting the Moth trap out often. One of the many delights of Moths are their English names, given to them by our Victorian forebears and often very memorable – I often get a Moth called ‘Uncertain’ in the trap and this week I got a Moth called ‘Confused’

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Confused

Last night I caught four Bright Wave in the trap.

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Bright Wave

This unassuming little thing doesn’t have a silly name but it is a rare Moth that only breeds in a few areas dotted along along an 18km stretch of this part of the East Kent coastline. The area of vegetated shingle below the meadows is known to be good for them and, in May last year, I went down there with a Butterfly Conservation ecologist to help him do the annual count of their caterpillars. I was delighted to find this one myself on Ragwort because they were difficult to spot until you got your eye in:

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A Bright Wave caterpillar (in the middle of the photo), very well disguised on Ragwort

On several occasions recently we have seen Kestrels carrying prey, heading back to their nest in the white cliffs. We went along to see how the nest was getting on but, in fact, there was little to be seen although the nest does look active. However, while we were there, there were other interesting things going on:

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Pyramidal Orchids

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It feels so special to have a cliff-dwelling House Martin colony there, one of only a handful in the UK where they are not nesting on buildings:

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This week we also went to Park Gate Down, a Kent Wildlife Trust reserve in East Kent that is renowned for its many different types of Orchid. In particular, it is one of only three sites in Britain where Monkey Orchids still grow.

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This is ancient chalk grassland that has never been fertilised or ploughed. Look at those anthills! Tucked away in the beautiful Elham Valley, it is so quiet there that we can even take the dog without worry that she will cause chaos.
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Just to be clear, this is the at-times poorly behaved but immensely loveable dog that we are talking about

The end of June is too late for Monkey Orchids or indeed many of the other Orchids that grow there but Fragrant Orchids were flowering in their thousands.

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Nice to get out and make the most of these beautiful long summer evenings.

It’s been quiet on the shipping front this week although this was a striking image with two ships anchored up alongside the meadows one night. The Whitdawn in the foreground is a regular but the large ship in the background is new – GH Storm Cat. She is a bulk carrier and I see that, after spending a couple of days with us here in Kent, she is now on her way to Brazil, expected to arrive on 7th July.

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The last photo today is of the Cherry tree. This year, along with every other year we have been here, we are not expecting to harvest a single cherry from this tree. Currently it is being stripped by those Starlings we were so delighting in.

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Squirrel Eviction

Five years ago, when we were newly arrived and had no real idea what we were doing, Kent Wildlife Trust came to do a botanical survey here and produced a report advising on the best way to manage the meadows for wildlife. Whilst they were with us, they suggested that we seeded a rectangle in the first meadow with a perennial wildflower mix suitable for calcareous grassland. We cut the grass down really hard that September to expose as much earth as we could and broke the soil up by raking before spreading the seed.

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The rectangle that was planted with Emorsgate seed EM6F five years ago

Half a decade later and, in contrast to the surrounding grasses, this rectangle is full of flowers and billowing with Butterflies, Bees and Hoverflies. If ever there was an advert  for stopping mowing some of your lawn and sowing some wild flowers, then this is it.

This year, once the seed heads have formed and ripened, we will cut this rectangle and lay the green hay onto another area of the meadow for a while. In this way, hopefully the seeds will drop and then we get this wonderful flower diversity elsewhere without having to buy more seed.

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After seeing the damage that Grey Squirrels have been doing to the Beech Trees in the wood, we wanted to have a look in the six large bird boxes and evict any Squirrels that we could, although we are aware that they may be having second broods. Back in the spring, we had seen Squirrels nesting in every one of the boxes by using trail cameras mounted on to poles.

This week, we found Squirrel nests in five of the boxes. Of these, two of the boxes had Squirrels actually in them and we couldn’t get a good enough view to see if they had young in the box.  So we left these nests alone for now.

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There were two Squirrels in this Tawny Owl box. One darted out but the other one hunkered down and so may have had young underneath. We closed this box back up and left it

However the empty nests in the other three boxes were cleared out. Owls may be looking for somewhere to raise second broods and we wanted as many boxes as possible to be available should they want to use them.

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Clearing a Squirrels nest out of a Barn Owl box

All of the Squirrels nests looked similar and were made up of sticks and leaves with a soft topping of moss.

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We were able to clear out this empty nest in a woodcrete Tawny box

But in the sixth box there was a nest that looked very different, being made of just grass with no visible entrance.

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We don’t think that this is a Squirrel nest and I have sent this photo to Kent Mammal Group to see if they think that it may be Dormice.

Great Spotted Woodpecker chicks have fledged somewhere in the wood – we didn’t manage to find the nest this year and now it is too late.

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Mother feeding just-fledged young

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The large Red Deer continues to pay occasional visits to our part of the wider wood:

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A lovely couple of calming woodland scenes:

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Back at the meadows, the nights are getting warmer and there are many more Moths in the trap in the mornings. Many more individual Moths and also many more species – and with more time on my hands at the moment, I’m finding this fact exciting rather than daunting.

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A selection of the many Hawkmoths that were caught one night

The Eyed Hawkmoth is one of the more amazing ones:

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Eyed Hawkmoth flashing its ‘eyes’ to scare off a predator

I often catch these large Ophion sp Ichneumonid Wasps in the trap and they are a bit scary looking.

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I asked my Mothing assistant if he would pot this one up so that I could get a better photo of it. Unfortunately, he fumbled it a bit and ended up getting stung which apparently really hurt. In the ensuing chaos, the insect seized the moment and took off and so I never did get my photo.

I was confused by all this because I hadn’t realised that they could sting. However, after doing a bit more research, I think that, rather than being stung, he must have been stabbed with  its ovipositor. These Wasps lay their eggs into living caterpillars, I’m afraid, and so their ovipositors must be strong enough to go into flesh. How many humans can say they have been stabbed by an Ichneumonid Wasp? I think it is something to be proud of.

Here is a different Ichneumonid that we also saw this week:

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Ichneumon xanthorius. Look at its ridiculously slender black waist. This is a male, but the females will again be laying her eggs into live Caterpillars.

 

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Increasingly, I find Insects completely fascinating, particularly the interactions between different species. These Wasps below are Ornate Tailed Digger Wasps, Cerceris rybyensis. It was a bit difficult to work out what was going on here but I think it was a mating pair and a third one was trying to get in on the act:

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These Wasps dig deep tunnel nests into compacted soil, often in colonies. A friend found a colony of these Wasps (or a very similar species) near his home in Maidenhead and he has let me include his photo of one of their tunnels:

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A Digger Wasp emerging from her nest

These Digger Wasps hunt small Mining Bee females and like to attack them as they are returning to their nest heavily laden with pollen so that they can’t easily evade capture. The female Bee is stung and paralysed and taken back to the Wasp’s tunnel where she remains still alive for up to two days to be fresh food for the Wasp larvae. Each larva is provisioned with many such Bees. Actually, it’s like something from a horror film.

I happened to be in the right place to spot a Hummingbird Hawkmoth become entangled in a Spider web. The Spider shot out shockingly fast from where it was lurking but we managed to get the Moth out from its clutches in time, clear away the sticky web from its wings and let it happily fly off again, none the worse for wear. The Spider lost its lunch but I really don’t feel guilty about that.

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The rescued Hummingbird Hawkmoth at rest. It is quite a worn one with that bald patch on the top of its head.

We saw a Ringlet Butterfly in the meadows for the first time on 18th:

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Ringlet

June is just such a fantastic time for insects in the meadows:

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Two Six Spot Burnet Moths
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Mating Six-spot Burnets
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Marbled Whites on Greater Knapweed
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Lots of Cockchafers flying around the hedgerows in the evenings. They bump into me as I walk out at dusk to put the peanuts out which was a bit unnerving before I got used to it.
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I am not sure what this hospital-green Beetle is, but its very lurid against the Kidney Vetch
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A well disguised Click Beetle, Agrypnus murinus. Click Beetles can click loudly to give a potential predator a shock, giving the Beetle time to escape. The mechanism to make the click can also be used to right themselves if they get turned upside down.
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Tiger Crane Fly, Nephrotoma flavescens

We are attempting to catch the eye of passing Turtle Dove by adopting the strategy of spreading seed on the strip. The flocks of Wood Pigeon and Stock Dove that come to eat the seed will tempt the Turtle Dove down to see what’s going on. Unfortunately, we are yet to see a Turtle Dove, but the strategy was proven to work this week when it attracted down two Racing Pigeon.

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Note the colourful leg rings

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These birds are still with us several days later. Have they got lost? After all, they are meant to be in a race. They are noticeably much tamer than wild birds and I was able to get quite close to take these photos.

Another strategy we are applying is to play Swift calls loudly into the sky to bring Swifts in and alert them to the presence of our nest box. This is also proving successful and there is much Swift action to be seen as small groups feed over the meadows and then wheel round past the box, screaming, throughout the day. We are yet to see one actually go in the box though.

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Next to the Swift box is a House Martin box, although it is actually House Sparrows that are nesting in it:

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The bird ringer has been down to the cliffs this week to see how the House Martin colony is getting on there. Apparently nest building is still ongoing and he took this fantastic photo of a bird collecting material for its nest.

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Here are some more of his photos that he took while he was there:

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House Martin
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Peregrine Falcon – ringed, I notice, so probably not born on the cliffs.
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Rock Pipit

The bird ringer also went off to ring young Barn Owls in nest boxes along the Stour valley this week. He does this every year but this year there were no young Owls to ring in the boxes which was really disappointing. He did, however, ring this surprising clutch of young Kestrels that he found in one of the Owl boxes. There were four babies, although only two can be seen here, along with two cold eggs.

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Up at Sandwich Bay, he took this photo of a Great Green Bush Cricket on a Lizard Orchid:

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We have been playing an elaborate game of cat and mouse with a pair of Grey Partridge. They have been in the second meadow for several weeks now and we put them up most days as we walk around the circumference of the meadow. It is actually really good news that they haven’t come up to the seed and cameras on the strip at the top – the meadow is providing what they need without any supplementary feed.

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Cameras at the ready for the Grey Partridge

However, we would like to get a photo of them. Every day we walk round with cameras at the ready, but they seem to know exactly when we lose concentration and that is the moment when they burst from the undergrowth and fly off to a different part of the meadow.  After several weeks of trying, the best photo of them that I can offer you is this:

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There is not much to report on the meadow’s mammals this time. A Rabbit has been coming to the strip and this is the first time we have seen a Rabbit here for several years:

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Here is one of the Badger triplets being taught how to collect bedding:

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The one-eyed vixen is now nearly at the end of the course of mange medication that we have been giving her. I really hope that this second type has worked this time, although in this photo below she is still itching:

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We had another 17mm of rain this week. Here she is, wet and looking her absolute worst

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This Irish ship, the Arklow Castle, was moored alongside us for many days and started to feel like part of the family. It was very empty and buoyant – no red would be visible on its hull once it is loaded:

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We have also seen two cruises ships coming into Dover this week. This is Carnival Breeze:

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We also saw Disney Magic come in. We went to Dover this week and drove up to a viewpoint overlooking the port – Disney Magic was still there.

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Disney Magic moored at the brand new cruise ship berth. To the left is the new marina and the building with the solar panels to the right is where the old Hoverport used to be
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This is the old cruise ship berth. The white hotel building and train terminus behind it date back to when there was a train ferry here. This all closed down once the channel tunnel opened and it is now the site of the cruise ship passenger terminal.

The country is starting to reopen and a new normal is tentatively emerging. However, I am unsure what the future is going to hold for cruise ships and for all these new facilities that Dover Harbour is currently building for them. We shall have to see how things progress.

 

 

 

 

 

A Few Drops of Rain

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A wet Fox! We have had some rain – not enough to make any noticeable difference to the gasping ponds but we will gratefully accept what we have been given. The rain gauge reports that a glorious 20mm has fallen in the last week.

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A wet Badger cub. Although mortality in cubs is high, this year’s four cubs still remain with us, including this little one which is now only about half of the size of the other cubs
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Out and about in wet weather gear  – we shouldn’t be so delighted about it but this is what the drought has done to us
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Trying to magnify the effect of any rainfall by increasing the wild pond’s catchment area

This week we went to nearby Lydden Temple Ewell nature reserve, 220 acres of chalk grassland and a wonderful haven for Butterflies in July and August. At this time of year there are hundreds of Fragrant Orchids out, although they are really small with so little rain this spring.

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The Lydden Temple Ewell reserve and the beautiful valley beyond

We also went up to Sandwich Bay to see the Lizard Orchids. They are such odd plants:

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They too looked like they have been affected by the dry weather, although I think we were also a bit early for them. We will try again in a couple of weeks – its good to have a reason to go off to such a lovely place, although the dog will insist on barking at the waves.

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Last year, Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory had a major fundraising effort to buy the land  in which they had dug their scrape. They had previously been renting the land but, now that they have bought it, they have been able to increase its size and carry out all sorts of other improvements. Unfortunately, its grand opening is currently put on hold.

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Now, as we drove past the newly dug banks, Poppies were having a complete field day on the disturbed soil.

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The banks of Restharrow Scrape were like this along their entire length

It was an absolute spectacle. I hadn’t previously considered the wildlife credentials of Poppies but we have noticed that the few here in the meadows are really attractive to Bumblebees and other pollinators:

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So what a nectar bonanza all those Poppies on the banks of Restharrow Scrape must be providing this year.

2020 is meant to be the year that I am focusing on improving my Bee recognition skills and, since there are lots of Bumblebees about, I am concentrating on them for now. The UK has only 24 species of Bumblebee and so how difficult can it really be? The answer appears to be that it’s actually quite difficult – certainly that’s what I’m finding.

These two Bumblebees below are interesting. The Bee at the back is the Buff-tailed Bumblebee. The Bee at the front, with its white tail bordered by sulphur yellow, is the Vestal Cuckoo Bee which is parasitic on the Buff-tailed Bumblebee.

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Bombus terrestris, the Buff-tailed Bumblebee, at the back and Bombus vestalis, the Vestal Cuckoo Bee, at the front

The Vestal Cuckoo Bee will seek out a Buff-tailed Bumblebee nest, kill the queen, lay her own eggs in the nest and the Buff-tailed workers will then look after the Cuckoo Bee young rather than the young of their own species.

I feel on much firmer ground with Moths and Butterflies. We saw the first Burnet Moths in the meadows on 10th June:

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Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet Moth. What a fabulous thing. I have never noticed the blue striping on its abdomen before and that its antennae are also blue.
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Large Skipper Butterfly
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Large and vigorous Red Admiral warming up on a Reptile sampling square

There are quite a few splodges of shockingly day-glo orange Slime Mould growing on a Dog Rose in the hedgerow. Slime Moulds live freely as single cells when their microorganism food is abundant. But when food becomes scarce, many will come together and start moving as a single body as is happening with this one below. Apparently there are a few bright orange slime moulds that look like this one but, if it goes on to produce fruiting bodies, it might be possible to then properly identify it.

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We found this dead Pygmy Shrew and what a nose it has:

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Pygmy Shrews are much smaller than Common Shrews but we didn’t have both to compare and we also didn’t take any measurements. Pygmy Shrews, however, have a proportionately longer tail to body length as this internet photo below shows and so I am reasonably confident that this is a Pygmy Shrew.

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Shrews are killed by Kestrels amongst others but are often found abandoned by their predators since glands in their skin produce a foul tasting liquid.

The flock of around fifty young Starlings still remains a prominent feature of meadow life at the moment.

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I include this photo of a Carrion Crow because it puts me in mind of a Victorian lady in mourning with her jet black skirts..

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..and this one looks a bit Dickensian as well:

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Just when I thought that I had understood what was going on with Fox cubs this year, one night there were three of them. We have only seen three the once this year:

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Is this third cub also the offspring of the one-eyed vixen and her mate?

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The rather tatty-looking one-eyed vixen
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Her rather handsome mate with the cubs

Since I stopped treating the Foxes for mange about a fortnight ago, the one-eyed vixen has very rapidly developed another balding area behind her ear. This is so depressing – I thought she was better.

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I have been in touch with The Fox Project again and they have recommended now trying a different treatment – Psorinum 30c. As with the Arsen Sulphur that I was previously using, this remedy is again made from natural ingredients and it does not matter if an uninfected Fox or other animal takes it instead of our target animal. It is a one-week treatment and has been found to be effective on Foxes with up to 40% hair loss due to mange. It should arrive early next week and fingers crossed that this works for her.

She is the only one of the resident Foxes that now has mange. The rest of the Foxes here are looking great:

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The Badgers are looking good too, although we do have concerns about that little one. The triplets are now not far off the size of their parents:

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One of the triplets in the front here

An enormous yacht sailed past us this week – the people standing below the beam help put the thing in proportion. If those are people, how tall is that mast?

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This yacht is Geist, 34 metres by 7metres, and she has just been built in Britain – in the Spirit Yachts Boatyard in Ipswich, Suffolk. She was only launched on 4th March 2020 and is the largest single-masted wooden yacht to be built in the UK since 1930.

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Internet photo of Geist in the Spirit yard
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Internet photo of the owners cabin on Geist. Personally, I find that lack of portholes below deck terribly claustrophobic
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Internet photo of the galley and dining area

She is indeed a luxurious superyacht. She flies a Portuguese flag and so I wonder if she was sailing past the meadows on her journey from Ipswich to Portugal.

My final photo for today is of a beautiful sunset over the meadows this week – at this time of year this is at about 9.30pm, a fact that is almost unbelievable in the depths of December.

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Seventy-Six Years Ago..

Seventy-six years ago today, 156,000 men landed in Normandy, marking a turning point in the war.

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There was bad weather on 5th June 1944 and D-Day got pushed back a day. All those men had to deal with their nervous energy, apprehension and dread for another twenty-four hours until a lull in the weather created a window of opportunity on 6th June allowing it all to go ahead. Seventy-six years later we find ourselves once more in challenging times as again poor weather batters the meadows at this same point in June.

Men were not being loaded onto ships here – our part of the coast was more about trying to trick Hitler into thinking the invasion was going to be further east, across the much shorter Dover-Calais part of the Channel. But we have Poppies flowering in the disturbed ground along the line of the new hedgerow and it seems appropriate to start with these to mark all those countless lives that were lost this day back in 1944 for the good of all of us that follow.

 

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A Union Jack proudly flying in the meadows, mirrored by another further along the coast

Whenever you look out over the meadows at the moment, there is a Kestrel to be seen hunting. With all that hovering in last week’s heat, they were getting hot and thirsty and so were also turning up at the ponds:

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You can just see that this bird is ringed on her right leg – most probably this is the young female that the bird ringer caught here in the meadows last year. I do remember that she took a chunk out of his hand
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Male at the hide pond

We thought that this increased activity suggested that young had now been born in their nest in the nearby white cliffs.

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The fabulous Moonraker cliffs
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Disused Royal Marines rifle range at the base of the cliffs

We walked along to the nest and, actually, there was nothing interesting to report going on at the Kestrel nest although we did see a male Kestrel.

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However, I was really excited to see a small colony of House Martins building their nests on the cliffs, high up, tucked under protective ledges of the chalk.

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Two nests close together here

Last year’s nests would never survive the winter on these cliffs and so the birds have to start again each year, a nest taking more than a 1,000 beak-sized pellets of mud and up to 10 days to build.

They were getting the mud from the edges of this pool, formed by sea water that breaks over the sea defences at high tide:

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Bird ringer’s photo of the House Martins gathering mud at the pond – he goes here as well and has more patience to stand still and wait
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Bird Ringer’s photo
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House Martin with Ramsgate behind

House Martins traditionally built their nests on cliffs but, by the 19th Century, they started making use of buildings allowing them to extend their range. There are now only a handful of cliff-dwelling colonies in the country.

Nest building is only just starting here at the white cliffs this year and the birds will have two or maybe even three broods, keeping going possibly until October before embarking on the long journey back to Africa. We counted about 10 nests so far but will now be visiting regularly to keep an eye on the progress of the colony over the summer.

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There is also a small nesting colony of Fulmars here – maybe around 20 nests. These birds only come to land at this time of year to nest, the rest of the year they are out at sea.
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We also saw Jackdaws nesting in this hole. Here is one of the adults taking a faecal sack out

At the base of the cliffs, a little group of just-fledged Whitethroats were cuddled up on a branch still being fed by their parents:

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Back in the meadows, Green Woodpeckers seem to be continually at work amongst the long grass, pecking into Ants’ nests for their food. One of the birds around this year has an unusual drab colouration:

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They eat the Ant eggs, larvae and the adult Ants as well – they have a very long tongue covered in sticky saliva to help with this. Woodpecker droppings look a bit like cigarettes:

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The white outer casing is hard and dry. If you break it open a bit, you can see the exoskeletons of Ants within:

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I wasn’t initially sure what this very spotty bird below was and had to look it up in the book. It is a juvenile Dunnock:

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The bird ringer then caught and ringed one:

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He also ringed a juvenile Chaffinch and this juvenile House Sparrow, still with a bit of its bright yellow gape:

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He also caught this lovely adult Coal Tit:

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Young birds are appearing everywhere, including young Magpies which are a bit less welcome here.

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Two short-tailed young Magpies with their parent
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Three young here. They have had a good year.
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Starlings also seem to have had a very successful year. There is one black adult and the rest have been born this year. The Wood Pigeon looks a bit put out.

In previous years there have been several Fox families in the meadows but the only one this year seems to be that of the one-eyed vixen. I do now think that both the young cubs here are hers:

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The whole family

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The one-eyed vixen continues to turn up on cameras all over the meadows:

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June has arrived and so have the Skippers. We saw an Essex Skipper on 1st June:

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and a Large Skipper, with the slight checkerboarding on the forewings on the 2nd:

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On 4th June, we fleetingly saw the first Marbled White of the year and a Meadow Brown on the 5th.

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The first Marbled White of the year

There are only 59 species of Butterflies that breed regularly in this country and we see 22 of those in the meadows every year. There is always room for improvement, though. The bird ringer went to a nearby nature reserve this week, Lydden Temple Ewell, which Kent Wildlife Trust maintain as wonderfully biodiverse chalk grassland. He took these photos of mating Adonis Blue Butterflies:

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A tantalising glimpse of the wonderfully bright blue upper wings of the male. Both sexes have diagnostic fine black veins that cross the outer white fringes of their wings

Sadly, we don’t yet see Adonis Blues or Chalkhill Blues in the meadows but I am on a quest to put that right. Both of these Butterflies use Horseshoe Vetch as their sole larval food plant and over the last couple of years I have been growing Horseshoe Vetch in the greenhouse and planting it into the meadows where previously there wasn’t any.  This project is ongoing – it will take a few years to build up a sufficient bank of this Vetch to have any hope of attracting them in.

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Horseshoe Vetch now growing in the meadows

We have an arachnophobic daughter who thinks that these posts should carry a Spider Alert warning banner so that she doesn’t accidentally come across an image of a Spider without first being prepared. So I can now reassure her that the following images of insects seen about the meadows over the last week do not include that of a Spider:

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Small Heath on Salad Burnet
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Green Hairstreak on Wild Mignonette. The Green Hairstreaks are all getting a bit worn by this point of the year.
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Yellow Shell Moth
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One of the three species of the Urophora jaceana group. This little Gall Fly causes galls on Knapweed. What an amazing looking thing.
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Honey Bee with its pollen sacks on its legs, visiting a Bramble flower
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One of my absolute favourites, Oedemera nobilis -or the Swollen-thighed Beetle -and other Beetles and Micro Moths
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Another Swollen-thighed Beetle on Wild Rose

The Hedgehog is back in the meadows by the wild pond and I really wish it wasn’t. This is close to where the Badger sett and Fox dens are, both of which eat Hedgehogs. This photo below is far from best quality but perhaps demonstrates what I am talking about. The little Hedgehog is standing left of centre. To the far left of the photo is a blur of a Badger and to the far right of the photo is a moving Fox. What I don’t really know is how readily they eat Hedgehogs – is is just occasionally when they are short of other things to eat or would they have eaten this one if they’d noticed it?

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Hedgehog and Fox. I don’t think either of them know the other is there.

Wandering through the regenerating part of the wood this week, we were horrified to see lots of Grey Squirrel damage to the Beech Trees.

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This beautiful and vigorous tree has been completely ringed and will now die. Bits of bark strewn all over the ground around the base.

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The Squirrels are pulling the bark off to get to the sweet sap being carried in the phloem just below. If they completely ring the tree, all phloem tubes will be cut and it can no longer transport sugars up to the part of the tree above the ring and that part will die. Even if the tree isn’t ringed, its growth will by adversely affected and it is vulnerable to fungal attack.

We researched the whole controversial subject when we got home. Grey Squirrel damage occurs from late April until the end of July to trees aged between 10 and 40 years, at which point the bark becomes too thick. Some years are much worse than others but it isn’t really known why. Controlling the number of Squirrels would be difficult in our wood because they will simply recolonise from other parts of the wider wood.

It was heartbreaking to see beautiful Beech Trees with this terrible damage. We have made a mental note to ensure that all Squirrels are evicted from the large Owl boxes once they have finished raising this year’s families and we will then insist that they do not return to breed in them again next year. We might not be prepared to kill them but equally we don’t want to make life too easy for them.

Here are a few photos from the trail cameras in the wood this week:

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A very dark Squirrel – almost black
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A Fox. We have been filling these shallow trays with water twice a week but they are drying up so quickly
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A Fox cub
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Badger in a woodland glade

I finish with the on-going project to get a decent photo of the Green Woodpecker young looking out of the nest hole. Progress is being made but the camera was too high and the image is just not sharp enough. It is the other adult looking out of the hole – I think that the young are not yet at that stage so I do still have a bit more time to get it right.

 

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We have now swapped in our best camera and reduced the height of the pole and we will see if this has worked when we next visit.